Bringing Technology from Home to Work

October 15, 2010

Once upon a time, there was a high, thick wall between workplace and personal technology. Corporate IT departments sanctioned–and supported–only certain programs and devices. The use of personal technology in the workplace was verboten, with strict policies that spelled out even stricter consequences for breaching the rules.

Then came the iPhone.

Today, the proliferation of smartphone-toting, Wi-Fi-connecting, cloud-app-accessing employees, makes it increasingly difficult to keep consumer technology out of the workplace. Even if IT departments aren’t fully on board, they are at least grudgingly accepting, since the model can often save companies money, increase end user productivity and, according to a recent report by Forrester Research, ultimately create a more satisfied customer base.

Increasingly, employees are leveraging a continuum of technology that begins at home, then carries through the office, kids’ soccer games, the take-out joint and home again.  They are always-on, yes, but it turns out they are also always innovating; looking for ways in which “personal” technology platforms can be extended and enhanced to provide value to the customer.

And then a HERO came along

Forrester Research has dubbed these workers HEROs, or Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. In a blog post on Harvard Business Review, Ted Schadler, VP and principal analyst at Forrester and co-author of the book “Empowered: Unleash your employees, energize your customers and transform your business,” says HEROs are those employees who solve customer problems using whatever technology means necessary, be it social media, mobile, wireless, cloud computing, or some combination thereof:

They’re improving how they do their jobs and solving your customer and business problems. And it’s not just a few employees; it’s a critical mass of employees. In a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. information workers, we found that 37% are using do-it-yourself technologies without IT’s permission. LinkedIn, Google Docs, Smartsheet.com, Facebook, iPads, YouTube, Dropbox, Flipboard — the list is long and growing.

As an example, Schadler describes a situation where an employee created a company how-to video using their child’s Flip camera and uploaded it to a personal YouTube account.

Call it the “ask forgiveness, not permission” phenomena. Where employees once had to make a special request of IT for solutions above and beyond standard issue–and wait for the request to be granted, or not–people with even a modicum of tech savvy can create an entire support ecosystem using free and/or freely available Web services, a smartphone and the tech equivalent of a paperclip.

HEROs or Villians?

But what about the customers these HEROs are aiming to serve? Customers may be thrilled to see a Facebook page that details, for example, a vendor’s latest specials; but what if company management deem the site inconsistent with regular corporate communications and order it shuttered? Or the person who set it up leaves the company–and takes the admin password with them?

Gordon S. Curtis, the author of “Well Connected: An Unconventional Approach to Building Genuine Effective Business Relationships,” says this potential on-again/off-again model can only lead to trouble–for business and customer alike.

What drives retention for a blog or social networking app is consistency and freshness,” he said. “People do appreciate access and access through their preferred social media or networking site. But if you are going to proclaim access, you must demonstrate that,” he says.

Consumer expectations may require HEROs

With that said, the expectation among customers seems to be, more than ever, that there will be 24/7 access to the organizations they do business with–regardless of whether the channel or the devices supporting the communication are corporate or personal. As a Facebook friend who is a PR pro recently posted, ” Sometimes, you can’t get away with not checking e-mail on the weekends.”

The HERO has only recently risen, so it’s still too early to tell if this new, sort of ad-hoc technology model is in keeping with customers’ expectations.

Clearly, there needs to be some kind of technology detente. Businesses and their IT organizations need to recognize the value (literally) of leveraging consumer technologies–and a workforce willing and eager to use them. End users need to recognize IT’s need–and, in some cases, legal requirement–to document, audit and secure the information systems driving business. And customers need to decide whether here today, maybe here tomorrow is acceptable.